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The Darkened Woods

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Killian blinked out into the inky blackness, trying to see even just a fraction beyond what light the lantern held up in his hand could cast. It didn’t matter that he had just replaced the candle within. No amount of light could penetrate this forest’s darkness for more than a couple feet. Which made traversing it all the more treacherous.

He yearned for a flashlight. Hell, even the one on his phone would probably be better than the antiquated thing hanging in his grasp. But technology didn’t work in these woods. It was far too ancient. Too dark. Too deadly. 

It liked to pull people in and never let them go. At least that was what the locals had told him when he’d first come into the quaint little coastal town that bordered the massive preserve nearly a year ago. He hadn’t believed them at first, of course. It was part of his educational training to be skeptical. He dealt in the effect of myths and folklore on local human populations. Some scary stories about an enchanted forest with a pull so powerful, it lured people right to their demise? Of course it had to be just that - stories.

Except they weren’t just stories. Despite all the warnings the townsfolk of Storybrooke had given him, some of them quite sincere in their pleas for him not to traipse into these woods, he’d done it anyway. It’d been why he’d traveled all the way to the town after all. He’d had a thesis to work on. And all the trained skepticism would keep the imagined bogey man away, surely…

Killian had learned the hard way that these woods were just as scary and deadly as the lore claimed. Days of his life had been leached from him when he’d gotten lost in its darkness after only his first trip in. He’d intended to hunt down some proof within its dense depths that backed up his theories. Instead he’d found a deeply depressive madness that had him wandering blind in the dark, all time lost to him.

Reaching up with his free hand, Killian frantically grasped at the charms hanging around his neck. A totem of protection, he’d been told after barely surviving that first trek in. That it would protect him from these woods as long as he kept it close and kept his mind clear. For the woods’ magic may have been ancient and dark, but the kind present in those charms was far more ancient. And certainly not dark.

Stopping to catch his breath and clear his mind, Killian closed his eyes and pulled air deeply into his lungs. He was protected from the darkness of this place. He was protected. He was-

The snapping of a twig just off to his right was all he heard before he went slamming hard to the ground, the glass of the lantern shattering with his fall. A nearly immovable weight was now pinning him down. He barely was able to turn himself onto his back where, in the dim light of the surprisingly still-lit candle, he looked up into the snarling teeth and glowing blue eyes of a massive wolf.

“Bloody hell,” Killian muttered as the beast snapped at the empty space just next to his head.

“Graham,” a woman sighed from somewhere in the darkness just before the area all around Killian and the wolf was illuminated in light. “Bit dramatic, don’t you think?” The wolf snorted in what Killian could only assume was derision and relaxed enough for Killian to be able to get his hand under its chest. 

He gave the strongest shove he could muster. “Get the bloody hell off of me, you mangy mutt.”

There was a snarl and another snap of its jaws next to Killian’s head, but the wolf did comply with his words and moved off of him. Sitting up, Killian dusted himself off and glared hard at the beast. The wolf glared right back as it stalked over towards the edge of what Killian now realized was a small clearing. 

“Would you two quit with the dick swinging, please? It’s giving me a headache.” 

Killian looked over to his left and felt a fluttering in his chest at the sight of her again. Bathed in the light of the bright yellow wisps now dancing magically through the air was what he could only describe as a blonde enchantress. Her hair was falling long and loose around her shoulders, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she had tied the strings of her bodice as tight as she did just for him. 

“Emma,” He murmured breathily as she moved towards him. 

“Hey beautiful,” She smiled with a wink, holding her hand out to Killian to help him up. When Killian was back on his feet, he instantly leaned into her space and pressed his forehead to hers. Damn, the way she could make him feel so completely safe in an instant…

A disgusted yip had him whipping his head back towards the wolf who seemed to raise its lip at him in a disapproving snarl before turning away and trotting off into the forest’s darkness. 

Emma let out a sigh, her eyes rolling as she pulled out of Killian’s grasp and moved towards the broken lantern. She leaned down over it, eying it in with a slight tilt of her head. 

“What did he say this time?” Killian questioned in agitation, taking the steps to stand next to her once more.

Waving her hand over the broken glass, Killian watched as her magic repaired it. “You don’t want to know.”

Rolling his eyes this time, Killian looked in the direction the wolf had disappeared. “You know, I really hate that your familiar is a damn werewolf.” He muttered in annoyance as he swung one of the straps of his backpack off his shoulders. 

Emma rose up on her bare feet, the fixed lantern now grasped in her fingertips. “He’s just trying to keep me safe.” She traded the lantern for the backpack Killian had now completely taken off and was holding out for her. She rather unceremoniously plopped herself down on the forest floor and unzipped it quickly.

“Ah yes, because I’m such a threat.” Killian scoffed as he kneeled down next to Emma, holding the lantern out to help her see, even though her magicked light was still hovering all around them. He watched as she rummaged through the back, taking in all the books and printed articles he’d placed within. One book clearly caught her attention and she pulled it out almost reverently. 

“Is this…?” She whispered, her green eyes looking up quickly to meet his blue.

Killian nodded. “Aye,” As Emma looked back down at the book and opened its cover, gently flipping through the pages, he leaned in closer to her. “If what you believe is correct, it very well may hold the answers to finding that dagger. Then we can end the curse that has been keeping you stuck here for so long.”

Her eyes found him again, and he could see the wonder shining in them. “How did you…?”

Smiling shyly, Killian gave a half shrug and scratched behind his ear. “You’re not the only one who knows a thing or two.”

“Oh, Killian.” Emma sighed before collapsing against him, her arms reaching up to wrap tightly around him in a bit of an awkwardly angled hug. “Thank you.”

Even with the weird positioning, he was able to press a gentle kiss into her hair. “Of course, darling.” As she continued to hold him tight, he whispered. “There’s also onion rings in the bag.”

A gasp escaped Emma and before Killian could really blink, she had waved her hand and the book in her lap was back in the bag and zipped closed. She jumped to her feet, slinging the bag onto her shoulders. Then he found himself being yanked hastily to his own feet. 

“Why didn’t you say that sooner?!” Emma grumbled as she pulled him quickly out of the clearing, the wisps of light continuing to dance around them as they went in what Killian figured was the direction of her cottage. 

“I assumed your watchdog would smell it.”

Emma waved her free hand dismissively over her shoulder as she continued to drag him along. “When Graham said he could smell something awful, I thought he meant you.”

“Delightful.” Killian grumbled as he let himself be led deeper into the dangerous forest by the fiery blonde witch who had saved his life all those months ago when he’d first wandered within its depths. The witch who had given him the charms to protect him when he’d promised he’d help her. 

The woman he had slowly come to realize he was now madly in love with and would do anything for in order to save her.